Will Ragnar Klavan be a crucial part of Liverpool's back four this season?
Liverpool have added seven new faces to their squad this summer, including the relatively big names of Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum and Loris Karius, all of whom will be expecting to challenge for a starting place in the team over the course of the coming season.
One transfer which went under the radar, though, was that of Estonian defender Ragnar Klavan. Signed from Augsburg for around £4 million, Klavan was widely expected to come into the squad as fourth choice centre-back, backing up the likes of Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho and fellow new arrival Joel Matip in the event of an injury crisis.
However, thanks mainly to injuries to Sakho and Matip, the 30-year-old has been able to establish himself in the side throughout pre-season as a calming influence in the Liverpool defence.
Dejan Lovren’s struggles have been well documented since his £20 million move from Southampton, but last season he really came on leaps and bounds, mainly thanks to the support of Mamadou Sakho, who settled the Croat down and allowed him to defend at his best thanks to being a defensively secure partner. This is something that Liverpool lacked when Martin Skrtel was in the side alongside Lovren, or indeed Sakho.
Now though, with Skrtel out of the squad and Klavan coming in to replace him, Liverpool have replaced an unstable weakness at centre-half with a calm, no-nonsense figure in the shape of the Estonia captain. Klavan is not quite as strong as Sakho, nor does he have the pace or positional qualities of the Frenchman, but he is a defender who does the basics well and doesn’t take any risks.
This has not just added quality to the squad, but it has also settled Dejan Lovren down in pre-season.
Whether or not this is enough to earn Klavan a surprise place as a regular starter is yet to be seen. Sakho may have had his injury and disciplinary problems over the last few months, but he was a colossal figure for the Reds both on and off the pitch as they began their resurgence under Jurgen Klopp.
Lovren is starting to look like the kind of defender that persuaded Brendan Rodgers to part with £20 million in exchange for his services. Joel Matip has been widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga for the last few seasons, and at 24, has plenty of time to get better still.
Nevertheless, Klavan currently looks a match for all of them. He may not be quite as good, or have as much potential as Liverpool’s three other options, but he is a thoroughly reliable man to have in the back line. Come next weekend and the opening day match against Arsenal, the Estonian is likely to be playing in the centre of defence. Don’t expect him to look out of place.
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